Fledgling travel search player Kayak.com will kick off a pay-per-click search campaign at the start of the new year, in a push to develop an audience of interest to advertisers.
The company also plans to announce more partnerships, such as the one it has with America Online, which will expand distribution of its clients' listings. Kayak.com executives won't yet divulge the names of its distribution partners, but said it would debut two more deals with top 20 Web players "imminently".
"Media sites, portals, or even cross-shopping sites who lack a good travel offering now would be able to offer one," said Steve Hafner, CEO of Kayak.com, who formerly helped found Orbitz. "Advertisers will have access to a whole lot more traffic."
The online marketing effort will initially be aimed at developing traffic to Kayak.com's own site. By January, the company plans to have a portfolio of 1,000 keywords, which will grow to 3,000 by February and eventually number 20,000 by the end of the first quarter. Text ads will appear both on Google's network and on Yahoo's Overture.
Hafner wouldn't say how much the company planed to spend. He indicated it would be more than its travel search competitors, but less than the big online travel agencies.
"We're spending a considerable amount more than other meta-search companies," he said.
The company banked $7 million last week in venture capital financing, earmarked for product development and marketing.
The company is managing the campaign in-house, and will bring aboard a vice president of e-marketing in Q1 to oversee it. Hafner wouldn't divulge that person's name, but said it is someone who has managed keyword campaigns for four years. It's already been determined that the first-quarter campaign will focus on flight, hotel and destination keywords, the majority being hotel-oriented.
"An example of what we're not buying is 'cheap hotels' -- that's high volume, but low conversion," said Hafner. "A combination we will be buying is 'motel 6 sarasota.' You know that person is very qualified."
The company will manage its portfolio by conversion rate, initially using Microsoft Excel spreadsheets. The company says it's evaluating whether to use bid management software.
Kayak has already invested in search engine optimization (SEO). The company hired iProspect to determine how competitor TripAdvisor had been so successful in ranking highly in organic listings, and to help Kayak.com implement some of those techniques as it developed its own site.
So far, Kayak.com has signed about 20 paying advertisers, which Hafner describes as a "who's who" of travel agencies, hoteliers and airlines.
"We're definitely gaining traction," said Hafner. "The AOL announcement helped a lot. People were like, 'I like your product, but how the heck are you going to get traffic?'"
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Pamela Parker is a former managing editor of ClickZ News, Features, and Experts. She's been covering interactive advertising and marketing since the boom days of 1999, chronicling the dot-com crash and the subsequent rise of the medium. Before working at ClickZ, Parker was associate editor at @NY, a pioneering Web site and e-mail newsletter covering New York new media start-ups. Parker received a master's degree in journalism, with a concentration in new media, from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.
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